President Donald Trump spoke on Saturday with his CIA chief and top diplomat about the spy agency's assessment of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Thethat substantiates an assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a U.S. official familiar with the intelligence. The official declined to characterize the confidence level of the CIA's assessment.
A separate U.S. official told CBS News Friday that U.S. intelligence has "high confidence" in its assessment that bin Salman ordered the killing -- an assessment based on an understanding of how Saudi Arabia operates.
Neither official indicated that there is direct evidence linking bin Salman to the killing — including on the day of the incident.
On Saturday, Mr. Trump called CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from Air Force One asto view wildfire damage, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. She provided no additional details but said the president has confidence in the CIA.
Mr. Trump told reporters before he left the White House that, when it came to the crown prince, "as of this moment we were told that he did not play a role. We're going to have to find out what they have to say."
In his remarks, the president spoke of Saudi Arabia as "a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development."
"I have to take a lot of things into consideration" when deciding what measures to take against the kingdom.
The intelligence agencies' conclusion will bolster efforts in Congress to further punish the close U.S. ally for the killing. The Trump administration this past week penalized 17 Saudi officials for their alleged role in the killing, but American lawmakers have called on the administration to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia or take other harsher punitive measures.
Saudi Arabia's top diplomat has said the crown prince had "absolutely" nothing to do with the killing.
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters traveling with him at a summit of Pacific Rim nations in Papua New Guinea that he could not comment on "classified information." He said Saturday "the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity. It was also an affront to a free and independent press, and the United States is determined to hold all of those accountable who are responsible for that murder."
The United States will "follow the facts," Pence said, while trying to find a way of preserving a "strong and historic partnership" with Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, was a columnist for the Post and often criticized the royal family. He was killed Oct. 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish and Saudi authorities has said he was killed inside the consulate by a team from the kingdom after he went there to get marriage documents.
This past week, U.S. intelligence officials briefed members of the Senate and House intelligence committees, and the Treasury Department announced economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the killing. Also this past week, the top prosecutor in Saudi Arabia announced he will seek the death penalty against five men suspected in the killing.
Mr. Trump has called the killing a botched operation that was carried out very poorly and has said "the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups." But he has resisted calls to cut off arms sales to the kingdom and has been reluctant to antagonize the Saudi rulers. Mr. Trump considers the Saudis vital allies in his Mideast agenda.